5 takeaways from the Cardinals’ season-ending loss

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Robert Hanashiro/USA Today Sports

BY DAN BUFFA, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

One game. Winner takes all. A finality that hits the Cardinals and their diehard fans on the wrong side of the bed this morning after a season-breaking 3-1 loss last night to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The task at hand seemed simple enough: Find a way to defeat one of the best pitchers in the game in Max Scherzer, and one of the best teams in baseball. The Dodgers came into the wildcard one-off with 106 regular season wins, an outrageous total of wins that was only good enough to finish second in the National League West, behind the San Francisco Giants. If that doesn’t tell you how hard the Cardinals had it last night, especially on the road in a packed sea of blue, I don’t know what does. As the Dodgers prepare to take on those Giants in a division series showdown, let’s examine a few things on St. Louis’ final game of the year.

SHUT DOWN THE BIG THREE AND YOU CAN BEAT THE CARDS

One of the key ignitors in the Cards’ September comeback was an ingenious, and long overdue, lineup switch from Mike Shildt. By slotting Tyler O’Neill between Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, it deepened the lineup and allowed the Canadian slugger to go on a terror. Opposing pitchers had to deal with Goldschmidt or risk facing O’Neill with a runner on base. With Arenado looming behind, it’s not an easy setup–even for pitchers like Scherzer. But the St. Louis native and three-time Cy Young award winner shut down O’Neill in big situations Wednesday night.

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While Scherzer couldn’t complete five innings, the Dodgers bullpen combined with the starter to limit the Big Cardinal Three to one hit in 11 at-bats, with four strikeouts and three walks. They wouldn’t let Goldschmidt beat them, but the next two guys couldn’t break through. If you were expecting Yadier Molina to pull an offensive rabbit out of his hat afterwards, you were left waiting. Along with Dylan Carlson, the rest of the lineup couldn’t muster a hit. Only Tommy Edman brought his lumber last night and it wasn’t enough.

THE CARDINALS NEED A SHORTSTOP BADLY

While the ascension of Edmundo Sosa-who went 0-4 at the plate and made a key defensive error midway through the game-is nice for the 2022 depth on the infield, the Cardinals direly need a true shortstop. True as in a guy who won’t need to be pulled late in a game for a .197 hitter in Paul DeJong. True as in a guy who can give you MVP-type production at a vital position. True as in someone who is booked to play 140 games and not let you down.

Even with Arenado and Goldschmidt under contract, St. Louis needs to make a big choice this winter: bolster the rotation with a money arm or bolster the middle infield. By now, Cards fans should know Edman is better when he’s spread out over the field and not exposed. By now, the front office should be on the lookout for Trevor Story, Corey Seager, or Carlos Correa. Someone who can pick up the slack when the Big 3 can’t get it done.

WAINO DID ALL YOU COULD ASK FOR

Adam Wainwright outlasted Scherzer and just about matched his performance. The 40-year-old starter completed 5.1 innings, striking out five and scattering four hits with two walks, including a nifty catch to end an early threat. Wainwright kept a tough Dodgers lineup in check into the sixth inning, an inning he completed in 24 of 32 starts over the summer. He allowed a solo home run to Justin Turner, but bounced back with commanding strikeouts in the fourth and fifth innings.

Everybody knew when trouble was afoot in the sixth inning that the bullpen would stir-but what you asked Wainwright to go out there and do, he did and that’s all you can demand. Wainwright’s postseason ERA stays well below 3.00 and hopefully, he gets another shot at October pitching in a year. While his regular-season performance was impressive, a bulldog-like Wainwright is a weapon in the postseason.

COMPLAIN ABOUT MIKE SHILDT, BUT HE DIDN’T LOSE THE GAME

If 2021 has done anything, it’s woken me up to the faults of the manager and also the strengths. The good parts from Shildt exist in the team’s overall massive improvement on baserunning and defense. The sticky parts were lineup adjustments, bullpen usage, and making key late-game moves to win. Check back over Wednesday’s game and he didn’t slip up.

Sure, Giovanny Gallegos could have gone more than an inning, but he had a nail issue after his successful eighth inning. If he goes out for the ninth and gets burned, and fans find out he was hurt, Shildt would be roasted. The manager went to Luis Garcia, Gallegos, T.J. McFarland, and Alex Reyes. Reyes threw three pitches and got beat by Chris Taylor, who hit 20 home runs this season. Who else do you bring in? Jordan Hicks. I wish. If he was healthy, the Cards may win that game. Dakota Hudson and Jack Flaherty were on the roster, but perhaps being saved for extras. In a do-or-die game, overall, Shildt managed a good game.

WINNING THE DIVISION NEXT YEAR IS A REALLY GOOD IDEA

In fear of stating the obvious, one way the Cards could avoid another wildcard face-off is to win the division. That means taking better advantage of a soft part of the regular season schedule and not waiting until the last month to wake up. Against all odds, St. Louis finished just five games behind the Milwaukee Brewers. But living in the past for too long isn’t good for your skin, so I digress.

Harrison Bader may disagree, but the 17-game winning streak wasn’t deleted this morning. On one side of the coin, you could be mad at the team for failing to win the division or beat Los Angeles and get into an actual playoff series, but that’s wasted breath. Baseball is a fickle game of inches and emotion, riding high on performance and nerves. If you had told me after losing Flaherty, Carlos Martinez, Jordan Hicks, Miles Mikolas for most of the year, that the Cardinals would still make the playoffs, I’d be shocked. A month ago, I’d think you were being funny.

Truth be told, the sun came out this morning and the coffee was fresh. The pastrami at Protzel’s Deli is sizzling, and the St. Louis Blues are about to begin their season. The Cardinals miraculously surged back into contention but didn’t have the bats or the pen to seal the deal. So, you fix the leaks and tackle the 2022 season.

Just remember, there’s no crying in baseball.

 

 

 

 

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